A Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Life and Family
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4th, 1804, into the sixth generation of his Salem family. His ancestors all of whom included businessmen, judges, and seamen, were all Puritans, which was a strict family religious discipline. These two aspects of his background had the greatest impact on affecting his imagination for his writing career.
He was given birth to in his family home on 27th Hardy Street in Salem, Massachusetts, which has since then become a museum now for people around the world to enjoy his writings and masterpieces.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s father is Nathaniel Hathorne, descendant of John Hathorne, He was originally named after his father but after the lingering guilt that Nathaniel constantly felt, he added the “w” to his name to show a difference in his behavior from the rest of his family and ancestors who were some of the first Puritans who settled in New England.
His Ancestor, John Hathorne had been one of the three judges at the seventeenth-century Salem Witchcraft Trails, where dozens of people were accused of and later executed for being a “witch”. And one other ancestor, William Hathorne who was their first American ancestor had been involved in religious persecutions that consisted of intense harassment. Which further shows the reason that Nathaniel Hawthorne had taken as a need to add the “w” to his name to relate away from these people of his ancestry. It is because of this history’s lingering guilt that provided a theme for many of Nathaniel’s stories including The House of Seven Gables.
His mother was Elizabeth Clarke Manning Hathorne; she on the other hand had an ancestry of little close to no violence and guilt causing problems.
His father a sea captain with the US navy, known commonly as General Hathorne, died in 1808 from yellow fever while out at sea when Young Nathaniel was only four years old. Leaving behind his wife and three children to depend on relatives. Nathaniel being the only boy. As he grew up, the responsibility to take care of his mother and two sister laid upon his shoulders.
When Nathaniel Hawthorne’s father died, his mother, Elizabeth, withdrew into a life of seclusion and raised him and his sisters secluded from the rest of the world. They moved away from their home at #27 to a few doors down to her parents’ home, which Hawthorne referred to as the “Castle Dismal”.
From Salem, the family eventually moved to Maine. Nathaniel had spent his early years evenly between Salem and Maine. His mother had maintained her secluded life until death and during this time Nathaniel and his sister had to do so too. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s childhood was calm, and a little isolated but far from unhappy, especially since as a handsome and attractive only son back in that time, he was idolized by his mother and two sisters.
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Once they were in Maine, Nathaniel, with the help of his wealthy uncles, attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine from 1821 – 1824. During his time attending this college, a leg injury forced Nathaniel Hawthorne to remain immobile for a considerable period of time, during which he developed an exceptional taste and interest for reading and thinking. He attended Bowdoin College along side his two most charitable friendships in his lifetime with..
Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future US president Franklin Pierce. Upon meeting these two men, Hawthorne was not interested in entering any of the traditional professions; he was an avid reader and already started writing his own short stories and had had many publish in magazines. At Bowdoin, Hawthorne read widely and received solid instruction in English composition and the classics, in particular Latin, but his refusal to participate in public speaking prevented his achievement of an outstanding academic record but yet he was in good standings. Though the college was small and isolated, the Bowdoin of the 1820’s was an unusually good college and Hawthorne had undoable profited from his formal education. One of his novels Fanshawe was published anonymously in 1828 at his own expense, and upon graduation he continued to write short stories and sketches, some of which were also included in his collection of “Twice Told Tales” of 1837. Henry Longfellow would later write an favorable review of it in the “North American Review” Magazine. The work was based on his college life and when it didn’t receive much attention, Nathaniel burned al of the unsold copies.
Upon returning from Bowdoin, Nathaniel spent the years 1825 - 1837 in his mother’s Salem household. Looking back at these years here, they seemed like a period of dreamlike isolation and solitude spent in a haunted room. It was during these “solitary years” that he learnt to write tales and sketches that to this day are unique for readers to look at and examine. These years were often remembered and commented on by him as a strange, dark dream, though his view of the influence of these years often varied. Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s writing though improved was not of lucrative pursuit so he had been living at the experimental transcendentalist community’s “Brook Farm” and had stayed there for a year, hoping to gain enough money to find a pleasant and economical home for himself and the love of his life.
Between the years of 1825 and 1836, Nathaniel Hawthorne worked as a writer and contributor to periodicals. Among his friends was John L. O’Sullivan, whose magazine “the Democratic Review published two dozen stories by him in hopes to help him promote his writings and creations. Preceding these publications, Nathaniel Hawthorne sent in one of his writings the “Seven Tales of my Native Land”, unfortunately, this writing was rejected and lead to Nathaniel Hawthorne burning his first complete short-story collection.
Still with his completed work, his insufficient earnings as a writer force Nathaniel Hawthorne to enter into a career as a Salem Custom House Measurer in 1839. 3 Years later, in 1842, Hawthorne left this job and with the money from the job and the money he had accumulated from his writings, he had a sufficient income to marry painter and an active participant in the Transcendentalist movement…
Sophia Peabody in Boston on July 9th, 1842. It was Sophia who had brought Nathaniel out of his “haunted chamber” which Nathaniel had started to lock himself in. During they’re wedding though, only the bride’s family attended the wedding to celebrate their marriage. With whom he had three children with, Una Hawthorne, Rose Hawthorne, and future author Julian Hawthorne.
The newly married couple resorted not to the Brook Farm, but settled in the heart and center of the Transcendentalist country movement, in Concord, Massachusetts at the house, which came to be known as “The Old Manse”. Here, they spent several years in happiness in as much quiet living as they could achieve.
Concord was the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Ellery Channing. Nathaniel remained in frequent contact with these important thinkers even though he didn’t take on or agree to their philosophical lifestyles.
As the years of happiness went by though, the growing family and mounting debts compelled the family to return to Salem because Hawthorne was unable to earn a living as a writer. In 1846, Nathaniel was appointed as surveyor of the Port of Salem, commonly known as the Boston Custom House by President James Polk.
He worked at the Boston Custom House as a surveyor for 3 years in which he was able to repay a majority of the debts that his family had owed and even had obtained a small profit of money to help with family financial issues for a while.
After working here for 3 years, Nathaniel Hawthorne was dismissed from this position when Zachary Taylor became the president because of his apparent political ties.
His dismissal from the job however, turned into a blessing rather than a sad event. Upon his dismissal from the position, Nathaniel devoted himself fully and completely to his most famous and successful novel, The Scarlet letter. He had zealously worked on the novel with a determination that he had not known of before, it carried him through the pages or writing and his intense sufferings infused the novel with imaginative energy, leading him to describe this book in his journal as a “Hell-fired story”.
On February 3rd, 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne completed and read the final pages of his book to his wife. Upon finishing he wrote, “It broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success.”
The Scarlet letter was an immediate success that allowed Hawthorne to now fully devote himself to his writing.
During the 1850’s the Hawthorne family left Salem for a temporary residence in Lenox, a small town in the Berkshire Hills. It was here that Nathaniel Hawthorne completed many of his writings of novels and short stories.
During the time frame between 1850 and 1853 was Hawthorne’s most productive. During this time, he wrote “The House of the Seven Gables”, “The Blithedale Romance”, “A Wonder Book”, and “Tanglewood Tales”.
While in Lenox, Nathaniel formed a memorable friendship with Herman Melville and eventually became a major proponent of Melville’s works, but slowly as time went by, their friendship became strained.
Around 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne under the request and support of his dear friend, Franklin Pierce, wrote a campaign biography for him. And in 1852 Franklin Pierce was elected as the president of the United States. Upon winning this election, he appointed Nathaniel Hawthorne to the important overseas post of
American Consul (advisor), In Liverpool, England. He spent four (4) years here, in which he served as the American Consul / Advisor from 1853 to 1857. These English years also contributed to his writings and resulted in “Our Old Home”.
This here is a monument created by the people of Liverpool, England to show their thanks and appreciation to Nathaniel Hawthorne for his existence and his works when he was there in his position as the American Consul.
In Europe, the Hawthorne’s spent fours years in England and a year and a half in Italy. In 1857, the Hawthorne’s left England for Italy where they spent their time primarily in Rome and Florence. During this time in Italy, Nathaniel Hawthorne started to write another novel.
This novel would turn out to be his last and longest novel, “The Marble Faun”. In 1860, they returned to England where he finished his book and published it.
Upon this book being published, the Family finally returned to the United States, after an absence of seven years, and they took up a residence in their first permanent home, The Wayside, at Concord.
Nathaniel Hawthorne has always been an exceptionally active man but his health had failed him in 1864. Since he had refused to submit any thorough medical examinations, the details of his declining health have remained as a mystery. Nathaniel passed away on May 19th, 1864, in Plymouth, New Hampshire after a long period of illness during which one thing known was he suffer severe bouts of dementia. Nathaniel had set off on a trip for the mountains of New Hampshire hills, with his friends Franklin Pierce, an activity hat had always enjoyed, hoping to regain his health, but he died on the second night that they were in Plymouth, New Hampshire, presumably in his sleep.
Nathaniel Hawthorn was then buried in “Sleepy Hollow Cemetery” in Concord Massachusetts. After his death, his wife, Sophia Hawthorne edited and published his notebooks. Many of these works include many sections, which she had cut out or altered. In addition, a number of his unfinished works were also published posthumously.
Other / After
Nathaniel’s writing styles had altered and shape through his many years of writing, the most significant change being the time frame when he had returned home to his mother’s household from attending Bowdoin College. He was one of the first American writer to explore the hidden motivations of his characters. Among his allegory stories, he explains the motives of people’s lives and their actions. His works has remained to this day notable for their treatment of guilt and the complexities of moral choices.
Nathaniel wrote his stories based on the themes of psychology, his own view on nature, his own views on religion and his religious beliefs and allegory. The symbols that he most often used are adultery, sins and human morality. Nathaniel had spent his writing times exploring the possibilities of writing with the concept of neutral territory, an absence of character confrontation, the use of formal dialog and to supply readers with a lengthy visual description.